A Philadelphia woman recounted the frightening hours she spent locked in a bathroom with the gunman at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.
Patience Carter, 20, said she was at the club with two friends during a family vacation to Orlando when the gunman, identified by authorities as Omar Mateen, ran in and started shooting. Carter said she and one of her friends ran outside and initially escaped the area but soon realized their other friend was missing. They went back for their friend and ended up being trapped in a bathroom as the gunman got closer, she said.
"We just went from having the time of our lives to having the worst night of our lives," she told reporters today during a news conference at Florida Hospital in Orlando.
Carter described the terrifying moments when Mateen entered the bathroom and started shooting, leaving people injured on the floor. She said that at first she thought he had a BB gun but then realized she was being hit with particles from a wall that was coming apart from the force of assault rifle bullets.
"It was the machine gun he had blaring around the entire room," she said, referring to the AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle that authorities said Mateen had.
Carter said that at one point she could see the gunman's feet under the stall when his rifle jammed. She recalled that he said, "Damn!"
After she and her two friends were shot, they remained trapped with the gunman for hours, she said. She had a shattered femur in her right leg and another shot in her left thigh.
"We laid there for hours and hours," Carter recalled. "Throughout that period of hours the gunman was in there with us, [he] made a 911 call saying the reason why he is doing this is because he wants America to stop bombing his country, and then he pledged allegiance to ISIS."
Mateen was a U.S. citizen, and his parents were immigrants from Afghanistan, authorities said.
After he called 911, he asked if there were any black people in the bathroom, Carter said.
"He said, 'You know, I don’t have a problem with black people,'" she recalled him saying, noting that he also said, "You guys have suffered enough."
Carter said she was too injured and afraid to leave the bathroom. Eventually, toward the end of the standoff between Mateen and police, he entered the bathroom stall where she and others were hiding, she said. Just before police burst through a wall in an effort to save the hostages, she said, he fired off at least three last shots. A man in front of her blocked at least one of the shots, protecting her.
"Thank you for saving my life, literally," Carter said, addressing the unknown man.
Shortly after the final shots, police entered the bathroom through the walls and eventually shot Mateen, she said. As police came to her aid, she said, the man who blocked the shots died from his injuries and was on top of her broken leg. Unable to move, she said, she feared that rising water from pipes that burst when police broke through a wall would lead to her drowning in the bathroom.
In "this pile of bloody water I was able to get the debris off my face," she said. "I was able to sit up and pull my left leg from underneath the person who was killed in front of me."
Her friend Akyra Murray was unconscious by the time police went through the wall, said Carter, who grabbed Murray's phone so it wouldn't get lost in the chaos. Murray later died of her injuries.
"I truly believed I could get that phone back to her," Carter said.
The pain from her injuries was so great, she said, that at one point she wished for death.
"I was begging God to please take me ... to take the soul out of my body, because I didn't want to feel any more pain," she said.
Before speaking to reporters today, Carter read out a poem about her experience in an effort to heal from the trauma. She started the poem with the line, "The guilt of feeling grateful to be alive is heavy.”